Understanding Digital Transformation: What Marketers Need to Know


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Regardless of what a consumer is shopping for—no matter the industry or good—there have never been more options at their disposal than there are right now. This fact, combined with the understanding that anything a consumer may need is now just a few clicks away, means that brands can no longer compete on product alone.

Instead, the differentiating factors for which products get selected come down to the experiences that brands are able to provide. There’s no shortage of places to buy a new sweater or everyday household product. But the brands that can offer that good along with a personalized, simplified, and valuable experience from the time you start your search until after it reaches your doorstep, are fewer and further between.

Consumers now demand that personalized experiences are no longer just “nice to have,” but rather are a necessary baseline for their patronage. Centralized, first-party data is among the most valuable and sought-after marketing tools for meeting these demands, but its value plateaus if you can’t do anything with it.

This is where the need for digital transformation comes in. But before getting into how to transform your digital presence, I first want to clarify what we mean by digital transformation.

Defining Digital Transformation

Often when thinking about digital transformation, brands direct their focus to their digital channels. Perhaps they need to revamp their website, better target consumers through their media spends, or want more personalized, segmented email communications. Those all may be true and will come into play, but it can’t be where you start.

Embarking on a digital transformation means working to understand your customers, their needs, and their behaviors at every touchpoint across the customer journey and understanding where those moments can be improved through digital means. Activating a successful transformation requires the right technology and a holistic approach across your marketing channels, as well as in your physical operations. But first, you must place your customers at the center of your business strategy and processes, and use your messaging, content, and offers to support their needs.

So, now that you understand what we mean by digital transformation, here are the four key areas of growth brands need to emphasize in order to transform their business.

Audience-Based Planning

Identity and first-party data are critical to truly understanding your customers and their needs. But data is only as powerful as your ability to act on it. Only when you are able to leverage the insights from your audience data can you go beyond surface-level personalization and create a truly individualized experience. You need to think of data as a tool to build an understanding of your customer. Brands need to engage customers in an environment that creates a beneficial data exchange where value is created on both sides of the relationship.

Audience planning combines insights from data that is voluntarily provided by customers, first-party data, third-party data, and market context (i.e., information coming from media and distribution platforms). It helps to define the target audience as individuals and understand their motivations, mindset, and what it will take to fulfill their needs at each interaction – in the right channel and on the right device.

Experience-Based Technologies

Not only are consumers engaging with brands in more channels and media platforms than ever before, but they expect the experiences they have with brands to be seamless and consistent, regardless of where and how they are engaging. Marketers love to throw around the terms “martech” and “adtech,” but if brands want a total customer experience, they need to think about their technology as being “experience-tech” that spans marketing, sales, commerce, and service. While there are a number of smaller technology companies that can fit your brand’s needs, Salesforce and Adobe are two of the largest and most-prominent companies in the space helping to stitch together the full customer experience.

Purchasing the right technology is only the beginning. The difficulty comes in implementing, integrating, and configuring your platforms into your ecosystem, supporting the workflows needed to orchestrate the experiences you want to deliver, and aligning the internal teams to execute your marketing in new and customer-centric ways.

It’s not easy, but it does pay off. The benefits and opportunities that stem from your hard work are numerous. You will be able to recognize customers immediately and repeatedly, engage them with higher-quality content, and deliver seamless and personal journeys that grow and adapt at an individual level.

Content and Experience Orchestration

You can have all the insights and the right technology in place, but experiences are delivered through content, combining a series of moments to build relationships over time. Remember, your brand is fighting for attention in a sea of competitors and may only have a few seconds to grab consumers’ attention and interest. And if you’re going to engage tens or hundreds of thousands of consumers with personalized, one-to-one experiences and build lasting relationships with your customers, scaling your content is key.

The scale needed can only happen with a repeatable process; it also helps to have an agency partner that has the resources and expertise available to excel in this process. There are several steps to the creative process, but for the purpose of scaling personalization, versioning is among the most important. Especially if you are a global company, leveraging automation and AI within your digital platforms helps to diversify your assets in an efficient and timely manner.

Connecting the Experience Through Commerce

Whatever previous idea you had about a linear path to purchase can be tossed aside. Consumers are always shopping – whether on their phones, computers, or in the store – and thanks to the increase in social and e-commerce, customers can go from awareness to purchase in just a matter of clicks.

This customer-centric approach to your brand’s experiences, where you are able to anticipate their needs in any given touchpoint, is done to either move a customer closer to the point of conversion or engender loyalty to spark the next conversion. We are in an era of total commerce.


A digital transformation is actually a business and operational transformation that leverages new digital tools for operating your business, delivering experiences, and building relationships in order to address customers’ rising demands. Sure, your digital channels, technology platforms, and content are likely going to be enhanced, integrated, and tailored in the process. But what you are really doing is structuring your operations in a way that allows you to meet customers in their moment of need with relevant and personalized content that provides value. Customer behaviors are changing at an incredible speed. Your digital transformation must continue to evolve with your customers and your business in order to keep up. You need new sources of data to understand customers better, new cloud-based technologies to create speed in delivery of personal experiences, and new operating capabilities to empower your team to meet the needs of your customers.

Matt Naeger
As Merkle’s Chief Strategy Officer, Americas, Matt brings nearly 20 years of helping marketers and brands embrace the advancements that make direct customer relationships possible. He leads the agency’s omni-channel strategy experts across industries — designing and launching integrated marketing programs by converging data with media and creating experiences that truly reach individuals. Matt has served as a strategy partner to Whirlpool, General Mills, Mercedes Benz, and Comcast; recent clients include Chase, HBO, Office Depot, and Time Warner Inc.


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